Five Fantastic Hobbies Promoting Brain Health
Hobbies improve our quality of life. They give us activities to engage in and things to look forward to outside of our careers. In fact, they can help us build relationships or be woven into our efforts towards a healthy lifestyle. Most importantly, they are an easy way to add joy and vitality to our overall well-being.
As far as brain health, hobbies can improve working memory, develop new synapses, create new learning pathways, and increase brain activity. While forming a hobby simply because it makes us happy can still benefit our brain, there are a number of hobbies that work double-time, exercising our brain while allowing us to relax and have fun.
There are many aspects of writing that can be both fun and good for the brain. Engaging in activities like journaling or even learning calligraphy stimulates neural activity. Handwriting in general activates regions in the brain responsible for thinking, language, and working memory, which all work to not just exercise our brain but prepares us for learning.
Creative writing increases cognitive functionality by lighting up our entire brain. Brainstorming ideas activates our occipital lobe where drafting switches to our frontal lobe. And the more we practice creative writing, the stronger our writing muscles get. This improves other areas of executive function such as decision making and problem-solving but sharpens our ability to plan ahead, handle multiple tasks, and remember details more easily.
In terms of dancing, it doesn’t matter which form we choose to turn into a habit. Maybe it’s dancing with friends at clubs or bars. Or perhaps ballroom dancing suits our fancy. We can even take formal classes, where we learn complicated choreography in dance styles such as ballet or tap. All of these different styles are fantastic for our bodies and our brains.
First and foremost, dance is a form of exercise. And exercise is always good for the brain. It gets our blood pumping, increasing oxygen, and nutrients to the brain. Exercise, in general, reduces cortisol and increases happy hormones, but because dancing is a social experience, the benefits of these hormones are even stronger. Finally, learning dance steps creates new neural pathways and stimulates overall cognitive functionality, helping to keep our brain fast and flexible.
Learning a new language
One of the best brain workouts is learning a new language. Research shows that not only does learning a new language improve memory, it literally grows parts of our brain, such as the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex. These areas are associated with language and learning, making things like vocabulary and recall. And this improvement isn’t strictly related to the language we’re learning but will apply to better performance in every facet of life.
Language also improves our overall cognitive functionality. We increase our concentration, hone our focus, and even improve our ability to multi-task as bilingual speakers are constantly juggling two or more languages with every instance of communication. It develops new neural pathways, increasing our brain’s neuroplasticity, ensuring our brain stays active and healthy even as we age.
Gardening has long been touted as a therapeutic activity. It helps reduce stress and can improve our overall mental health. Simply being in the sun increases our serotonin levels, which on top of elevating and regulating our mood, also supports cognitive function in the prefrontal cortex. There’s even evidence that working with the soil itself stimulates serotonin release due to specific bacteria being present.
The activity itself is a form of mindful meditation, which works to increase our concentration and help with mental fatigue. Figuring out how to plot a garden stimulates our problem-solving skills and there’s a fair amount of exercise involved in repotting, mulching, or digging in a garden. All of this actively creates brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), the proteins that stimulate new neural growth in our brain. Because gardening can be done with low levels of physical activity or even in a small amount of space, this is an excellent hobby for young and old individuals alike.
Learning a musical instrument
Similar to learning a language, learning a musical instrument engages new areas of our brain. However, unlike language, which focuses specifically on the language processing portions of our brain, music is a whole-brain exercise.
Learning an instrument actually increases our gray matter in multiple regions of the brain. But even better, it strengthens the connections between these areas, improving cognitive function overall. Memory, concentration, and the ability to multitask all improve, along with improved motor function. Research has shown that it even improves our spatial reasoning, which then improves problem-solving skills.
Although having a hobby may seem like a guilty pleasure, the truth is we can have fun while engaging our brain. And there’s no reason why we have to pick just one. Participating in different hobbies is a relaxing way to exercise our brain, helping us stay active and healthy while fighting stress at the same time. Which makes finding a hobby (or two) a smart brain choice.